The Madness of Coach Eric

With apologies to rugby, for there is no point kicking a man when he is up, there have been some spectacular coaching moments in recent years. Carel du Plessis had “a vision”, Harry Viljoen said there was “a process” happening and Rudolph Straeuli insisted that he was going “back to basics”.

The problem was that nobody else could see Carel’s vision, nobody appeared to understand Harry’s process and nobody had a clue what the basics were that Rudolph was on about. And when they were asked the question, Carel and Harry spoke with mystical confusion while Rudolph, in all seriousness, spoke unintelligible gibberish. I genuinely doubt he would be able to make sense of a transcript of almost any press conference he gave in his final six months.

Jake White’s predecessors suffered from one of three things: they were genuinely confused about what their job entailed, they were hopelessly inadequate when it came to the art of communication OR they weren’t asked the question properly. They deservedly copped a heap of media criticism which was even stronger and more unforgiving than it might have been had the people understood what the goals and objectives had been in the first place.

Now Eric Simons is copping some pretty similar criticism. So is he as mad as Rudolph? Is Eric barking? What about all those bizarre selections and weird tactics?

When the team was losing five successive games in New Zealand Eric Simons vowed that he would do something to stop the rot. Like every other sports follower, the coach was of the view that you can’t just sit back and hope things will change, you have to be proactive.

Together with his advisors, he identified the ‘middle’ overs as being one of SA’s weak points. Runs were being scored at three an over and the total was falling too far behind. So, after years of people moaning about how Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock were ‘wasted’ batting at seven and eight, they were moved to five and six to add urgency to the middle overs.

JP Duminy’s role, meanwhile, would be to ‘float’ in the order depending on needs, but he was always clear about his role whether he batted at five or eight. Duminy was to fill the Jonty Rhodes job description, and according to Rhodes his most undervalued job was keeping the big hitters on strike by running twos when they hit the ball down the ground to long on and long off in the final ten overs. So that was Duminy’s job – unless there was a terrible collapse in which case he would bat higher up.

Why was Makhaya Ntini ‘relegated’ to first change? He wasn’t. He was promoted. In New Zealand when Pollock and Ntini had bowled well with the new ball, there was routinely a release of pressure when they were replaced. In Sri Lanka, Ntini was asked to apply pressure from the 10th or 12th over, just when the batsmen were looking to accelerate.

Nicky Boje has scored two centuries and Lance Klusener has a 99 and a couple of 80s batting at number three. They both failed there in Sri Lanka but when they succeeded Bob Woolmer was hailed as innovative and brilliant. Does that mean Simons is dull and stupid when they fail?

You may not agree with everything – or anything – that Simons tries as coach, but he is smart, honest and sincere and he applies logic to problems. And, what’s more, he is perfectly happy to explain every move he makes and decision he takes to anybody that wants to know. And finally, unlike the vast majority of national sports team coaches, Simons accepts that it is his responsibility to get results.

That’s why it’s such a damn shame the players aren’t performing.

But Eric Simons can hold his head high now and, whatever happens in the future, he’ll always be able to hold his head high in the knowledge that he tried his best and his best made sense. To those who bothered to ask and think.

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